Good Choice For Lee

As a Pennsylvania schoolboy star, Sean Lee picked the Nittany Lions over the Hawkeyes. One of the ugliest games in the history of both programs helped him make up his mind.

Penn State's 6-4 loss to Iowa three years ago probably soured a lot of people on the Nittany Lions, if not college football in general. It really was that ugly. But the game had an entirely different effect on Sean Lee.

A senior at Upper St. Clair High in suburban Pittsburgh, Lee was being recruited by Penn State and Iowa at the time. He was on hand when the Hawkeyes visited Beaver Stadium, but unlike the other 108,000 spectators, he wasn't there to be entertained.

“I came to that game to watch the defense, and really the linebackers,” Lee said. “They played with intensity and did a great job of shutting down [Iowa's] offense that day. I saw that crowd and the atmosphere and how hard the defense played, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Before that game, Lee had been seriously considering Iowa. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz is an Upper St. Clair alumnus and was recruiting the All-Stater hard. But Lee had grown up rooting for the Nittany Lions, and when the time came to make a decision, he chose Penn State.

“I thought Iowa had a great campus, and the program is a great program with a bunch of great coaches,” he said. “Coach Ferentz has done a great job out there getting that program going. But Penn State was closer to home. When I was growing up, I was a Penn State fan. That's what it came down to when I made my decision. But Iowa was second. I really liked it out there.”

Lee has since emerged as the linebacking force everyone expected him to be coming out of high school. Now a junior, he's Penn State's leading tackler with 52 stops heading into Saturday's game against Iowa at Beaver Stadium.

“I've made some plays,” said Lee, who was credited with 17 tackles last week against Illinois. “I think I've gotten better from last year. But I've watched some film and there are still plays I can make, mistakes that I'm making that are frustrating. I feel like I still have room for improvement as the season goes on.”

Lee said the defense was partly to blame for last week's 27-20 loss to the Illini. While many observers have focused on the team's offensive shortcomings, Lee said the defense wasn't precise in the first half and helped dig the team a deep hole by giving up 21 points before the break.

“The big problem with last week's game was that the offense came out on fire and the defense didn't,” he said. “I feel like we really haven't put it together, where the offense is playing real well when the defense is playing well. It seems like when the offense is playing well, the defense is playing badly. I feel like we've got to support each other through the times when we're not playing well. We've got to keep our heads up, because we all go out to practice each day and work hard. We know it's not an effort factor. We've got to keep a level head and fight hard.”

In Iowa, the Lions will be up against a seemingly less dynamic opponent. The Hawkeyes won't hit Penn State with a no-huddle option as Illinois did to good effect. They run a more conventional scheme, and if the statistics are indicative, they don't run it all that effectively. Through five games, Iowa is last in the Big Ten in points (19.4 per game) and total offense (336 yards per game).

But when you've lost two in a row and are without a conference victory, you don't take anything for granted. Lee, for one, is expecting to have his hands full on Saturday.

“Iowa has a bunch of great coaches,” he said. “They're going to do a good job of scheming against our defense and finding a way to try to give their offense a good opportunity.”


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